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DATE: November 3, 1942
In an informal discussion with my friend and former professor Raymond Firth last night I picked up some views on the problem of Negro troops in Britain which may be useful to you and B.T. Mr. Firth is a reliable and very sober observer of social phenomena. He states that the views he expresses are widely held in England.
The Problem of Negro Troops. Any friction or disturbance resulting from the presence of American Negro troops is caused by white Americans and not English.
The English are becoming a bit fed up with the situation. Tales concerning English reactions to the narrow attitude of American whites are becoming apocryphal. One hears quite frequently, especially in the areas in which Negro troops are billeted, stories of signs appearing in pubs and inns reading "We serve anyone but American whites" with many variations, of course. Stories also spread of the courteousness and warm sense of appreciation of the American Negro trooper. Englishmen who have had contact with them are inclined to say "We like the `blackies' better than the
― 2 ―`Americans' because when you give them something they will always say `thank you' and mean it, while the `Americans' merely grunt." There is a significant tendency to designate the American Negro troops as "blackies," the term being used in a kindly if not affectionate sense, while the white troops are called "Americans" or "Yanks".
English Attitudes. The English are beginning to manifest a defense reaction toward the American attitude. They are more and more inclined to say to white Americans "If you don't want to eat and drink with whoever you find in our cafes and pubs, then stay out of them."
There is no very great likelihood that there will be any change in the British view of such matters as a result of the impress of the white American practices. It may be that a swank Mayfair place will set aside a separate bar for whites, but on the whole the English are apt to be quite stubborn about it, especially in the face of any American suggestion or pressure for change.
The English feel quite the same about the colored troops walking out with English girls. They will resent being told who their girls should not walk out with.
English Color Bar. There is a considerable color bar in England, to be sure. But it is somewhat more subtle than the American color line. There is plenty of color prejudice among Englishmen but it does not take the overt American form. One of
― 3 ―Mr. Firth's graduate students, Kenneth Little, is writing a doctoral thesis on racial disabilities in England and has collected a large amount of information and many case histories. (Little can be reached through Professor Raymond Firth, 2 Sylvester Road, Cambridge, Telephone Cambridge 3314. J.C. may find it profitable to engage him.)
The real test for the British would come if American whites should suddenly decide to accept their black fellowmen as social equals. This might be embarrassing for the English.
It is inevitable that many Englishmen who now get a first hand view of America's narrow racial policy should accept with reservations the anti-imperialist, anti-racial-persecution broadsides of such American public figures as Willkie. The English are inclined to say to men like Willkie that freedom should begin at home.
West Indies. There is no conscription in the West Indies because there has been no complete absorption of manpower in England until recently. There has been all along, however, a serious lack of equipment with which to outfit the men already in the services. This situation is rapidly improving, however, and new developments may require a change in the West Indian policy. There are now a number of West Indian technicians employed in war work in England.
England has tried to avoid the militarization of her colonies.